Aspen Marketing -- Quid pro Quo
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Quid pro quo marketing is providing some incentive, often an item of value in exchange for business.  It is not like the “cents off” coupon from your neighborhood grocery store; it is more like paying someone who appears to be a neutral source to tell you that is the best grocery store in town. We are not accusing Aspen or CRC Health Group of actual payoffs or referral fees to educational consultants.  We will let you decide whether or not what we describe crosses any troubling lines.

It is hard to define where the proper boundary line lies that separates good quality marketing from trading on conflict of interest and quid pro quo. Thomas J. Croke and Associates, Inc.  was a marketing firm from 1990 to 1993, and our consultant was a marketing representative for a for-profit programs for four years prior to that.  We understand how this works.  Referral trades on personal relationships, so effective, completely ethical marketers will try to build personal relationships with those in a position to refer.  

In order to "get in the door" small favors are offered, such as taking a prospective referral source to lunch, running or sponsoring a conference and  inviting potential referral sources, offering continuing education credits (CEUs), and hosting tours of their school or program with travel costs covered.  Generally small favors to "get in the door" are considered ethical; large favors to pay for referrals are at best suspect.    In some legal jurisdictions and in ethical principles of some professional organizations including IECA, favors that are compensation for referrals are unacceptable.  (Since IECA addresses only the conduct of its consultant members, what is unacceptable to IECA is that a consultant would accept them; it is not the business of IECA to regulate programs) 

We call trading referrals for favors or payoffs, "quid pro quo marketing." Obviously, there is a very fine line between a favor offered to gain access and to have the opportunity to explain a school or program and/or begin to develop a personal relationship as compared to a material incentive for referrals.  There is not unanimous agreement among responsible professionals as to where that line should be drawn.  We tend to set a restrictive standard for ourselves and expect that schools and programs we recommend will err on the side of avoiding conflict of interest.  However, in the interest of full disclosure, we acknowledge that we have been challenged by some who say our standards are not high enough.

With that as background, we acknowledge that the procedures for which we criticize Aspen marketing with respect to quid pro quo marketing might or might not cross any objective standards for schools and programs.   We are not sure.  We want to be sure the reader knows that we are not accusing Aspen of crossing any objective boundaries from an organization that declares ethical standards.  We also are not sure whether  they are crossing lines set by  NATSAP’s  Principles of Good Practice and  Ethical Principles.  We encourage you, the reader, to look at those and decide for yourself.  Whether or not they cross those lines, we do not think they are setting the positive example we would hope to see from the organization claiming to be “the leading provider of education programs for struggling or underachieving young people," as claimed on Aspen’s own website as of April 1, 2010.

These are the areas of our concern that create a possible appearance of quid pro quo marketing:

              3a. Exorbitant perks (red link) 

              3b. Special Events

           3c. External Referral

           4c. Information for Referral

Next Text on Aspen Marketing in Sequence -- Quid pro Quo -- Power of Referrals (red link)   

Navigating the Aspen Marketing article

1.  Exploiting publicity about abuses in the field, attempting to project the image that Aspen Education is uniquely immune to these problems.  

Too often we hear of clinicians advising parents that sending their child to a therapeutic program away from home is only a good idea if it is an Aspen program.  Clinicians and other referring professionals who give that advice are likely falling victim to  .   .   .   (more)

2.  Web Advertising.  A further example of where we would like to see improvement at Aspen/ CRC Health Group involves their web advertising. We saw temporary improvement about the time we previously called public attention to this, but it appears the problem is back, or maybe it never left and we just missed it.    (more) 

          2a. Examples

3. Quid pro quo marketing.  Quid pro quo marketing is providing some incentive, often an item of value in exchange for business.  It is not like the “cents off” coupon from your neighborhood grocery store; it is more like paying someone who appears to be a neutral source to tell you that is the best grocery store in town.  We are not accusing Aspen or CRC Health Group of actual payoffs or referral fees to educational consultants.  We will let you decide whether or not what we describe crosses any troubling lines.  (more)

              3a. Exorbitant perks (red link)

              3b. Special Events

           3c. External Referral

           4c. Information for Referral

4. Misuse of outcome studies.

Aspen, to its great credit, commissioned an extensive outcome study blanketing its schools, excluding its wilderness programs. The problem arises when the study is used to convince others of the effectiveness of one school or treatment center, ignoring the fact that the results of many schools have been lumped together.   (more)

5.  Referral from one Aspen program to another.

When a person is referred to an Aspen school or program, upon completion of that stay Aspen generally refers back to the referral source, a common practice in their business.  When a person arrives at an Aspen program  .  .  .  (more)

Additional Links:

Return to main article on Aspen Education

Blog entry on closure of Mt. Bachelor Academy

Official web site of Aspen Education

Official web site of CRC Health Group

Official web site of Bain Capital

Return to Major Providers Index

Return to Individual Schools and Programs Index

Woodbury Reports links to Aspen Education

Feedback is invited. We will publish selected feedback.  Email FamilyLightResponse@yahoo.com

Disclaimer: No  program review, no matter how positive, is a blanket endorsement. No criticism is a blanket condemnation.  When we express our level of confidence in a school or program, that is our subjective opinion with which others might reasonably disagree.  When we assert something as fact, we have done our best to be accurate, but we cannot guarantee that all of our information is accurate and up to date. When we address compliance with our guidelines, you need to remember that these are only OUR guidelines -- not guidelines from an official source.  We have also set the bar very high, and do not expect any school or program to be in total compliance.  It is not appropriate to draw a conclusion of impropriety (or even failure to live up to conventional wisdom) from our lack of confidence in a school or program or from less than perfect conformity to our guidelines.  Some will say we expect too much. Readers are responsible for verifying accuracy of information supplied here prior to acting upon it. We are not responsible for inaccuracies.

Last revised April 12, 2010



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